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Philately in the Classroom

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 At the turn of the century, Burk’s research and philatelists encouraged teachers to incorporate stamp collecting into classroom activities. Stamps appealed to educators because of their availability, color, and imagery printed from around the world. Teachers in New York public schools encouraged their students to collect stamps as early as 1885 because, teachers remarked their students learned facts about foreign countries as easily as they learned the rules of marbles. A principal in Chicago observed that all of his best students collected stamps and believed stamp collecting led to improved academic achievement in high school. Teaching geography with stamps continued for decades, and sometimes journalists teased that “Hobbies Solve Teachers’ Problems Nowadays.”1 Stamps illustrated who was in power, but stamps alone could not challenge readers to investigate complicated stories behind the changes in empires, kingdoms, and republics, or why empires expanded. Teachers could, however, ask students to look at a stamp and then find its country of origin on a map. Mary Branch’s poem offered anecdotal evidence that stamp collecting successfully taught world geography.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Three months ago he did not know
His lesson in geography;
Though he could spell and read quite well,
And cipher, too, he could not tell
The least thing in topography.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 But what a change! How passing strange!
This stamp-collecting passion
Has roused his zeal, for woe or weal,
And lists of names he now can reel
Off in amazing fashion.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 …And now he longs for more Hong Kongs,
A Rampour, a Mauritius,
Greece, Borneo, Fernando Po,–
And how much else no one can know;
But be, kind fates, propitious.2

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The type of knowledge gleaned from stamps reflected a style of history and geography commonly taught in schools in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that rewarded rote memorization of “facts” such as political leaders or world capitals. Philatelists taught that to understand and classify stamps properly, collectors must know “where each stamp-issuing country is located, and by what government it is ruled.” Mary Branch observed that students learned basic information about a country. Students learned to see that stamps represented nations and highlighted geo-political differences among them.


  1. 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0
  2. R. L. Payne, “How Shall We Keep the Young People Interested in Philately?,” The Philatelic West 7, no. 2 (August 1898): 27–8; “The Public-School Museums of Belgium,” Harper’s Weekly, August 13, 1881, 558; “A Royal Road to Learning,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 9, 1885, 20.; and “School Stamp Exhibit Shown,” Los Angeles Times, August 7, 1932, sec. A, 1.) Far from solving problems teachers faced in their classrooms, stamps were adopted as pedagogical tools to help students learn about geo-political boundaries and difference from the 1880s through the 1930s.

    7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Some philatelists viewed international stamps as visual press releases of changes in governance and believed in the power of a stamp to relay that information: “Upon the simple postage stamp can be studied the rise, decline, and fall of empires, kingdoms, and republics.” ((“Taught by a Stamp,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 26, 1894, 27. 

  3. 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Mary L. B. Branch, “The Little Stamp-Collector (poem),” St. Nicholas, An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks 12, no. 10 (August 1885): 732. This poem was reprinted in Washington Post, November 11, 1888. 

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Source: http://stampingamericanmemory.org/2014version/learning-to-read-stamps/philately-in-schools/